Manitoba's top doctor says our province is currently experiencing an increase in COVID-19 transmission. But, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin also says their models are not showing a significant increase in severe outcomes in the coming weeks.

Dr. Roussin provided a rare update on the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday afternoon to announce that our province will be expanding its offering of a second booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The announcement, which was first made on Wednesday, means the booster will now be offered to residents of personal care homes and elderly persons housing congregate living sites, individuals aged 70 or older who live in the community and First Nations, Inuit and Metis people aged 50 or older.

At the same time, Dr. Roussin announced that test positivity rates have been increasing over time. There has also been an increase in hospitalizations, with most of those happening in those aged 80 and over.

"Over that same timeframe though, we are seeing a decrease in the more severe outcomes such as ICU and deaths," notes Dr. Roussin.

According to Dr. Roussin, the BA.2 variant is currently the most prominent strain in Manitoba. It represents about 60 per cent of transmission in Manitoba. Dr. Roussin says BA.2 has been found to be more contagious than the original Omicron variant. This is proving to also be the case in other jurisdictions around the world. However, he says those jurisdictions have not noticed an increase in severity.

According to the most recent data from the province, there were 1,359 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Manitoba from the week ending April 2nd. That is an increase from 979 the previous week. The volume of lab tests increased to an average of 1,081 tests per day, compared to 982 per day the previous week. The test positivity rate climbed to 18.6 per cent, up from 13.9 per cent.

During that same period, there were 147 total severe outcomes, with 141 hospital admissions and six deaths. Of the 141 hospitalizations, 11 were ICU admissions.

Meanwhile, Dr. Roussin also announced on Thursday that the province will be distributing rapid tests to participating rural libraries across Manitoba. About 50 libraries have so far expressed interest.